In a recent Anxiety UK membership survey, we asked if members found physical exercise helpful in the treatment and management of anxiety. A resounding 93% of respondents did, with many saying that activities such as walking, yoga, gardening, swimming, zumba, tai chi, running, cycling, pilates and tennis all play a part in helping individuals manage their anxiety long term.
Furthermore, a recent study by the University of Maryland School of Public Health found that exercise helps to ‘buffer the effects of emotional exposure.’
J. Carson Smith, assistant professor of kinesiology, who led the study, said, “If you exercise, you’ll not only reduce your anxiety, but you’ll be better able to maintain that reduced anxiety when confronted with emotional events.”
The study compared how moderate intensity cycling versus a period of quiet rest (both for 30 minutes) affected anxiety levels in a group of healthy University students.
Researchers assessed their anxiety state before cycling or rest, shortly afterward and finally after exposing them to a variety of highly arousing pleasant and unpleasant photographs, as well as neutral images. They found that exercise and quiet rest were equally effective at reducing anxiety levels initially. However, once they were emotionally stimulated by the photographs for 20 minutes, the anxiety levels of those who had only rested went back up to their initial levels, whereas those who had exercised maintained their reduced anxiety levels.
The study suggests that exercise may play an important role in helping people to better endure life’s daily anxieties and stressors.
With proof mounting, there is no better time to get moving to improve your mental health. And with this week’s National Stress Awareness Day fresh in our minds, perhaps exercise (whether that be running, brisk walking, gardening or football) is the key to everyone living a happier life.